LIVE: Patty Griffin Brings Poetry & Activism Through Music @ Troy Music Hall, 11/12/2019
On a cold Tuesday night after the first snowfall of the season, Patty Griffin came to Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and shone as bright as the full moon in the sky. Accompanied by David Pulkingham and Conrad Choucroun, Griffin’s indelible voice and poetic words quieted the Hall’s 500+ listeners as she told stories and shifted styles with ease.
Griffin’s opening act, Rose Cousins, was a delight in her own right. Singing with clarity of voice and knowledge of content, the Canadian singer’s songs “Farmer’s Wife” and “Swimmer” both struck the audience emotionally. “Farmer’s Wife” combined the retrospective of seeing her mother through adult eyes of watching her sister in the same role, the experience improving her understanding of her mother considerably. “Swimmer” focused on anticipating grief and loss of her father.
Cousins charmed Griffin’s fans with humor, aware she was “the only thing between you and Patty Griffin,” capably sustaining attention away from the beloved Griffin temporarily while listeners enjoyed hearing stories about her family of origin (she grew up on a potato farm) and the joys of being an auntie (and not a parent). Cousins’ voice was sweeter than wine, and with her tart humor, she quickly won fans in the audience. “The Benefits of Being Alone,” which she explained had both upbeat and rather downbeat versions, was a great vehicle betraying both her wit in writing and vocals in performing. Cousins is an act who should not be missed.
Griffin entered the stage shortly after 8:30, and without a word began singing alongside her colleagues in a soulful version of “Mama’s Worried.” Griffin is an icon in the folk world, a songwriter and performer whose music is known for poetic language that leaves listeners a bit more compassionate about others’ and their stories. The choice of song foreshadowed that Griffin would continue this legacy, giving glimpses into the worlds of those without voices by starting with the story of a mother who pushes through her own pain to care for others.
Changing gears quickly for her song “The Wheel,” the energy shifted upward with high powered guitar and bass grounding the song.Griffin talked a bit between songs, sharing insights and guiding her fans to think carefully about their own beliefs. Before playing “Boys From Tralee,” Griffin asked how many folks in the crowd were Irish American. She pointed out that many of us in upstate New York hail from Ireland or Italy, many of us children of immigrants. She wove a tale of gardening in the soil of her Texas home, thinking about the immigrants locked in private prisons just twenty minutes away. Griffin reminded listeners that our ancestors were also immigrants, and reminded herself with the song about her family’s decision to leave Ireland and bring their children to the United States to work, escaping poverty.
The audience cheered her, buoyed by her straight talking and maternal reminders that many of the hardships causing deep pain are rooted in poverty. Her painfully honest song “Had a Good Reason” was inspired by her compassion for Billie Holiday’s grief at her maternal abandonment, and how wondering about her mother’s leaving caused so much pain. But even in the pain of the story, Griffin reminds us not to judge Holiday’s mother, who was struggling herself with racism and poverty.
Weaving gospel, country, blues, and even Americana genres throughout her folk concert, Griffin demonstrated incredible flexibility not only in adapting to genre but also in shifting her voice to match the needs of different themes. Joyful and dancing while playing guitar and mandolin, Griffin’s energy wouldn’t betray her 55 years. She acknowledged her colleagues on stage early and often, sharing energy with them freely.
Griffin’s performance of “River,” a personal favorite of this writer’s, movingly described the strength and independence of women. “Shine a Different Way” followed, a high energy piece about fresh starts.
She re-entered the stage for her encore, warning “Now you all need to get home safely, it’s icy out and you aren’t used to it.” She was everyone’s mom with that reminder, almost wishing we could text her when we came home safely.
Griffin announced she would sing “the only love song I ever wrote from start to finish, and it was about my dog.” And immediately, I understood Patty Griffin. As Griffin crooned out “Oh Heavenly Day,” the song clicked for me as I thought about my golden retriever’s happy face as she enjoyed being present in the moment, “that smile on your face/I live only to see.”
As the audience sang along, swaying to the love song about Patty’s dog, it felt like a connection so honest and real had been shared in Troy Savings Bank Music Hall under that full moon in the freezing cold night. And it felt that way because the relationship between Patty and the other musicians had been shared and given so honestly with the audience. Patty Griffin shared her heart, her thoughts and beliefs about caring for others, through her music. She didn’t hold back, and in that she left an enduring mark on Nippertown.
Here’s hoping Griffin returns to Nippertown again soon to share her love. Our fans will have lots of love to share with her, too.